Traffic Q&A: Clearing up confusion on right turns, left turns

Question: What’s the protocol for turning right on a red light when oncoming traffic is turning left in the same direction on a green arrow?

While turning right on a red light recently, I was nearly hit by a driver turning left on a green arrow. He made a wide turn into the right lane.

If there had been an accident, who would have been at fault? I thought I was safe to turn into the right lane because the driver turning left needed to turn into the left lane.

I know both drivers need to be doing a bit of defensive driving, but clarification would be good. — Kris S., Gig Harbor

Answer: Strictly speaking, you are correct: The right lane is supposed to be yours. In Washington, drivers turning left in that situation are supposed to wind up in the left lane.

But don’t forget what’s on William Jay’s tombstone:

“Here lies the body

of William Jay,

Who died maintaining

his right of way.

He was right, dead right,

as he sped along,

But he’s just as dead

as if he’d been wrong.”

So many people are unaware of the left turn law (or ignore it), it’s never safe to turn right until you’re sure it’s clear.

Here’s the way the official Washington Driver Guide puts it: “Turn from the lane that is closest to the direction you want to go and turn into the lane closest to the one you came from.”